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Why are Idaho hospitals on the brink?

“Even when we get into our larger medical centers and our larger metropolitan areas, they are smaller hospitals compared to what you find in Salt Lake City or in Portland, Oregon”
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 6:23 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — The Idaho Health Care system is made to deal with everyday life, not a pandemic.

“Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained. Our healthcare system is designed to deal with the everyday realities of life,” Governor Brad Little said in a news release in late August.

However, hospitals are reaching capacity statewide.

“The last thing that you want to do or to put your family through is getting involved in a hospital situation like this, you don’t want to end up in the hospital because you’re sick,” said Brianna Bodily with the South Central Public Health District.

Despite this, Idaho is not in the top-10 nationwide for COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 people.

So why are Idaho’s hospitals filling up?

“Even when we get into our larger medical centers and our larger metropolitan areas, they are smaller hospitals compared to what you find in Salt Lake City or in Portland, Oregon,” said Bowen Harris, a nurse administrator with Cassia Regional Hospital.

The City of Boise has a slightly higher population than Salt Lake City, but Salt Lake City has about 500 more hospital beds, according to data from American Hospital Directory.

The Salt Lake City metro area has a population of over 1.2 million people. The Boise City-Nampa Metropolitan area is around 600,000 people.

Within these metro areas, Salt Lake has double the staffed beds, according to hospital data.

Those numbers are roughly proportional, and both Idaho and Utah are running out of room.

“Our ICU at our largest medical center (Cassia Regional is part of Intermountain Healthcare), which is in Murray, Utah, it’s got three ICU’s and every single one of those are running at 90% plus capacity, and many days are right there at the 100% capacity mark,” Harris said.

Idaho has the seventh-lowest median age in the country at 36.9 according to the U.S. Census.

“When you have a younger population, you’re more spread out, you’re urban areas don’t need to have huge, large medical centers on a regular basis, but when you have a disease that affects a large swath of the population, you can become overrun really quick,” said Harris.

In Idaho, over 99% of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are among unvaccinated individuals.

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